/ 28.03.24

AI and accessibility - a match made in heaven?

As we all know, accessibility is crucial to modern web development. It ensures that websites and applications are usable by all individuals, including those with disabilities.

However, creating accessible websites and applications can be challenging, and organisations often struggle to implement the appropriate levels of accessibility.

  • AI
  • Accessibility
  • UX & design

AI-powered accessibility tools are becoming increasingly prevalent and can help businesses and organisations in various ways, from automating accessibility testing to providing real-time accessibility feedback to developers and designers.

For example, AI tools can instantly analyse a website's colour scheme and suggest alternative colour combinations if non-compliant. They can also test for compliance against Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by providing alternative text for images, ensuring correct colour contrast, accurate audio and video descriptions, and keyboard accessibility shortcuts.

During our research, we’ve found several interesting examples of how AI is being used commercially to improve complaint accessibility globally. Solutions like Be My Eyes are working with Open AI to develop tools that help businesses deliver more accessible customer experiences, reducing resolution time and cost by up to 60%. Similarly, AI-powered accessibility tools such as Equally AI and AccessiBe are utilising machine learning algorithms to ensure that websites and applications are compliant and accessible.

Big players, including Microsoft and Google, are rolling out pay-per-use solutions such as Cloud Vision, enabling developers to integrate vision detection features within applications, including image labelling, face and landmark detection, optical character recognition (OCR), and the tagging of explicit content.

A recent report by The World Bank identifies that people with disabilities represent about 15% of the world's population and have an estimated $8 trillion in annual disposable income. There is little doubt that businesses that exclude people with disabilities are not only risking reputational damage but are also missing out on a large and valuable market segment.

The SOAK team has been actively testing some of these tools and is taking a holistic approach to effectively integrating AI into our accessibility strategy and broader product development. However, privacy and ethical considerations must be carefully considered when using AI, especially when solutions require access to a user's personal information to function correctly.

Early-stage technology development can be a little like the Wild West, but it's essential that these protocols are developed and tested with a wide range of users to perform without bias and successfully represent the needs of all user groups.

As this technology continues to proliferate, it's essential to keep up to speed with regulatory legislation such as the EU's Artificial Intelligence Act, which sets out rules for developing, modifying, and using AI-driven products, services, and systems. However, the EU clearly sees the potential of this technology and has recently launched a series of AI innovation packages to support AI startups and SMEs.

Moving forward, we expect to see more platforms and AI integrations into existing software packages that will help expedite and underpin the delivery of a wide range of digital services and solutions, making them more valuable and accessible to everyone.